The Department of Justice on Wednesday revealed that 120 out of the 176 unclaimed cadavers of persons deprived of liberty or prisoners will be transferred to the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) for autopsy, amid the deaths related to the killing of broadcast journalist Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa.
This will determine whether they died of natural causes or were summarily executed while serving their prison terms inside the New Bilibid Prisons, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said.
A supposed middleman in the October 3 murder of Mabasa, Cristito “Jun Villamor” Palaña, was suffocated with a plastic bag by fellow prisoners in Bilibid, hours after self-confessed gunman Joel Escorial surrendered and identified him.
Interviewed during the 86th founding anniversary celebration of the National Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday, Remulla said PGH management and the DOJ will sign an agreement for the turnover of the 120 bodies for pathological examinations.
According to Remulla, well-known forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun will lead the autopsy.
The Justice Secretary explained that not all of the 176 unclaimed bodies would be turned over to PGH since the latter can only accommodate a maximum of 120 cadavers.
The cadavers are currently stored at the Bureau of Corrections-accredited Eastern Funeral Homes in Muntinlupa City.
“We will determine the cause of death based on the carpeta (prison records) and based on the death certificate and the actual autopsy to be conducted by Dr. Fortun,” Remulla said.
The DOJ chief said that in case the autopsy results would indicate possible foul play, the NBI, and the Philippine National Police would be tapped to conduct further investigations and case build-up.
However, he admitted the NBI would have the first crack on the investigation.
“The NBI will be given the first crack at this because it’s a DOJ undertaking. The PNP will also be given a similar copy of all the results because we are conducting a joint operation on this matter. This is also a police matter,” the Justice Secretary said.
“They’ll have the first crack because this involves a scientific process. We want to have a hand in it. But we will also refer to the police because remember all these people went to jail, and died in jail. Many of them were dead because of the NBI or the police, so we have to give due courtesy to both agencies,” he added.
When asked what will happen to the remaining 26 cadavers, Remulla said: “We will see. The DOJ and its attached agencies’ priority right now is to locate the families of these people. Remember these are people, cadavers of people who had families. We will try to give them a decent burial.”
Remulla earlier said there were indications that a criminal organization is operating within BuCor based on the discovery of unclaimed cadavers of PDLs and contraband seized following the suspension of BuCor director-general Gerard Bantag last month.